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Archives - State Agencies - Life Skills and Transition Center

[Authorized: Constitution, Article IX, Section 12; NDCC Section 25-04-01]

The North Dakota State Constitution written in 1889 approved the plan for construction of an institution originally known as the School for the Feebleminded. The School was governed by a Board of Trustees (S. L. 1901, Ch. 36) that consisted of five members appointed by the Governor for four-year terms. It organized ten days after the appointments and chose a president, secretary, and treasurer and it met annually in April or as often as needed. The first Board included J. E. Gray, G. N. Midgarden, O. D. Nelson, W. C. Treauman, and F. C. Zuelsdorf. The Board of Trustees had authority to construct and administer the School, and to appoint a physician to be superintendent. In 1903 a parcel of land near Grafton (Walsh County) was purchased from the U.S. government with the purpose of providing custodial care, and education, and training for North Dakota's mentally retarded residents (S. L. 1903, Ch. 108). Grafton State School (known as Westwood Park) continues as a residential and training facility for the mentally retarded (intellectually disabled) who cannot derive greater benefit from other community-based programs offered in the state. Admission to the School is coordinated by eight developmental disabilities regional program administrators from the state's human service centers. The School has provided a broad range of special education, medical, rehabilitation, social, psychological, and evaluation services in addition to residential care.

Originally, like other state institutions, Grafton State School was governed by an independent Board of Trustees who administered and controlled the School, appointed a physician as superintendent, prescribed rules and regulations for governing, admitted students, and fulfilled other tasks necessary to operate the institution efficiently. The School opened to the first applicant on May 2, 1904. The Board of Trustees managed the School until the takeover by the Board of Control in 1911 (S. L. 1911, Ch. 62) who governed from 1911 to 1919. The Board of Control was replaced in 1919 by the Board of Administration which remained in place as administrator until 1969 when the Director of Institutions was appointed to manage the School (S. L. 1969, Ch. 440). Since 1985 administration has been under the authority of the Department of Human Service (S. L. 1985, Ch. 311).    

Due to the growth in student population, Grafton State School was in need of additional housing and the Legislature appropriated money for renovation of a section of the facility at San Haven State Hospital at Dunseith (S. L. 1957, Ch. 197). San Haven was a division of Grafton State School from 1973 to 1987 (S. L. 1973, Ch. 227) and the superintendent served both Grafton and San Haven institutions.

The first superintendent was required to be a physician skilled in caring for and instructing the feeble minded. Since creation the superintendent has had numerous duties from administering the day to day activities of the School to serving as a guardian for students. Legislation in 1953 required that the superintendent be a physician with five years of experience in the field mental health or be a competent executive with five years of experience as a hospital administrator (S. L. 1953, Ch. 187). The superintendent was to hire qualified physicians and executives as needed. The superintendent and the Director of Institutions were given the authority to act as guardians in administering the estates of the students in the absence of a guardian or parent [NDCC 23-04-13]. This was repealed in by the Legislature in 1973 (S. L. 1973, Ch.257). 

In 1987 appropriations were provided to fund a protection and advocacy project, under the custody of the court system, to deinstitutionalize students and establish residential treatment centers within North Dakota communities (S. L. 1987, Ch. 52). Also in December 1987, San Haven State Hospital, the satellite of the School, was closed. Students were placed in community facilities and homes or transferred to Grafton State School.

On July 1, 1989 responsibility for Grafton State School was transferred from the Director of Institutions to the Department of Human Services and it became known as the State Developmental Center at Grafton. The Legislature set requirements for licensing by adding a new section to the Century Code that provided for licensing of a residential treatment center for children and young adults (S. L. 1989, Ch. 337).    

In 1991 the Department of Human Services requested appropriations and resources to allow for the developmental center to be approved by accreditation services, health care organizations, and agencies for the purpose of maintaining standards applicable for handicapped and developmentally disabled individuals (S. L.1991, Ch.294). Legislation allowed the superintendent to authorize temporary release of a student into the custody of parents or a guardian (S. L. 1991, Ch. 121), and made other provisions for students being discharged (S. L. 1991, Ch. 54). Criteria were established for those who qualified for free services and student admission (S. L. 1991, Ch. 295). Legislation regulating the sale of real and personal property belonging to a student was defined (S. L. 1991, Ch. 326).

In 1993 the School began offering additional services both onsite and offsite at the regional developmental centers (S.L. 1993, Ch. 280). Also in 1993 the developmental centers were authorized to sell services whenever it was determined that such services were not provided by either the public or private sector (S. L. 1993, Ch. 281). There was a name change in 1993 from the State Developmental Center at Grafton to the State Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton (S. L. 1993, Ch. 34). An asset management committee was formed consisting of eleven members, appointed by the Governor.  It included three members from each house of the State Legislature, a member of the Department of Human Services, one from the Department of Economics and Finance, and a representative from the Office of the Attorney General. In 1999 this board was dissolved (S. L. 1999, Ch.34). 


1889       The School was created by the North Dakota State Constitution (Article IX, Sec 12).

1901       A Board of Trustees was authorized by the Legislature to construct a building for the School on land located near Grafton in Walsh County (S. L. 1901, Ch. 36).

1903       The Legislature established and appropriated funding for the School.  Duties were assumed by the Board of Trustees (S. L. 1903, Ch. 108).

1904       The first student enrolled on May 2, 1904.

1907       Relatives or guardians paid for schooling in most cases, otherwise payment became the responsibility of the county in which the student had lived (S. L. 1907, Ch. 237).

1911       The newly created Board of Control administered the School (S. L. 1911, Ch. 62).

1919       The School was administered by the Board of Administration from 1919-1969.

1931       Out of state students attending the School were required to return to their place of residence at the expense of their home state (S. L. 1931, Ch. 146).

1933       Coursework changes were made (S. L. 1933, Ch. 239), and the institution was renamed the Grafton State School (S. L. 1933, Ch. 240).

1953       The Legislature required that the Grafton State School superintendent be either a physician or an executive with professional training, or one who had completed a minimum of five years work experience (S. L. 1953, Ch. 187).

1957       The law allowed students from the State Training School (Mandan) to be transferred to the Grafton State School (S. L. 1957, Ch. 196), and for the San Haven State Hospital (Dunseith)to expand and accept students from the School at Grafton (S. L. 1957, Ch. 197).

1959       The Legislature was authorized by the Legislative Research Committee to study the public and private mental health diagnostic and treatment facilities within state institutions (S. L.1959, Ch. 258).

1965       The procedure for admissions to the Grafton State School was changed by the Legislature (S. L. 1965, Ch. 205).  Legislation provided a mill levy to establish mental health and retardation service units in North Dakota cities and counties. The mental health division of the State Department of Health required each unit to set up a board of directors.  This legislation allowed for communities to be involved in the program (S. L. 1965, Ch. 206).   

1967       The Legislature more clearly defined the mission of the School and changed the term “feeble minded” with “mentally deficient.” Students were provided educational opportunities depending on their abilities. Trades and manual industries allowed students to become self-supporting (S. L. 1967, Ch. 214).

1969       The Director of Institutions assumed responsibility for the Grafton State School from the Board of Administration (S. L. 1969, Ch. 440).

1973       Legislation required the superintendent of the School to be an administrator with professional training and skills relating to the needs of the mentally ill and to be an experienced, qualified, and licensed physician(S. L.1973, Ch. 226). The San Haven State Hospital was designated as a division of the Grafton State School (S. L. 1973, Ch. 227). Legislation repealed the requirement that the superintendent of the Grafton State School and the Director of Institutions act as guardians in matters concerning an estate belonging to a patient (S. L. 1973, Ch. 257) and the superintendent no longer served as a guardian for students (S. L. 1973, Ch. 326).

1975       Payment for schooling was to be paid by relatives or from a student’s estate (S. L. 1975, Ch. 245).

1979       Legislation provided for transportation as regulated by the Department of Public Instruction, for students who were under twenty-one years of age (S. L. 1979, Ch. 335).

1983       There were changes in legislation concerning the superintendent of the Grafton State School and the guardianship of the students (S. L. 1983, Ch. 313).

1985       The Grafton State School was renamed to State Developmental Center at Grafton and often called the “State School” (S. L. 1985, Ch. 310). Administrative duties and control of the State Developmental Center at Grafton and of San Haven State Hospital were transferred to the Department of Human Services (S. L. 1985, Ch. 311). A new section was added to the Century Code relating to payments (or waivers of payments) and for expenses relating to the care and treatment for students (S. L. 1985, Ch. 527).

1987       Two new sections were added to the Century Code concerning the liability in caring for non-resident students at the School (S. L. 1987, Ch. 325). Appropriations provided funds for a protection and advocacy project and monitoring by the courts to carry out the deinstitutionalization mandate (S. L. 1987, Ch. 52).

1989       A new section to the Century Code required licensing of a residential treatment center for children and youth (S. L. 1989, Ch. 337). There were changes in the qualifications for the superintendent of the developmental center (S. L. 1989, Ch. 338). The superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction assumed the duties from the Director of Institutions including determining whether a facility adequately met the students needs (S. L. 1989, Ch. 339).

1991       Legislation allowed the superintendent to authorize the temporary release of a student into the custody of parents or guardian (S. L. 1991, Ch. 121). It appropriated money to assure the accreditation of the developmental center and it determined the student admission credentials (S. L. 1991, Ch. 294). 

1993       Legislation allowed for additional services both onsite and offsite for the developmentally disabled student (S. L. 1993, Ch. 280) and addressed what services should be provided by the developmental centers (S. L. 1993, Ch. 281).

1995       The Developmental Center at Grafton became known as the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton or simply “Westwood Park”. An asset management committee was formed (S. L. 1995, Ch. 34).

2009       Legislation authorized the Department of Human Services (DHS) to transfer certain land in Walsh County, North Dakota to the Grafton Park Board for the price and on the terms as determined by the DHS. The land was a part of the grounds for the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton (S.L. 2009, Ch. 407).

2011       Part of the grounds for the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton was transferred by the DHS. The land was described generally as a parcel of land approximately 77.05 acres, more or less, located within the west ½ of the west ½ of the northwest ¼ of section 13, township 157 north, range 53 west (S.L. 2011, Ch. 352).

2013       A new section was added [NDCC 25-04] directing the Legislative Council to change the name of the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton, to the Life Skills and Transition Center and deleting language including "Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton", "Developmental Center", or any derivatives appearing in the Century Code, the Administrative Code, and Code supplements by inserting "Life Skills and Transition Center" or an appropriate derivative of that phrase. Reprinted publications for all State Codes will include the changes. The Life Skills and Transition Center is required to perform all duties carried out by the Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton. (S. L. 2013, Ch. 226).

2015       Legislation required that a facility near the city of Grafton in Walsh County be maintained for the purpose of the Life Skills and Transition Center.   Developmental disability means an individual with a severe chronic disability [NDCC 25-16-14]. Other changes to the Code concerned the language references from "developmentally disabled persons" to "individual(s) with developmental disabilities" (S. L. 2015, Ch. 200).  

2017       The Legislative Assembly requested that the DHS use donated funds to purchase the Job Services North Dakota building located in Grafton for the use of the Life Skills and Transition Center.  Terms and conditions of the Prairie View building and real property were determined by the DHS and the Attorney General and described in legislation associated with the Life Skills and Transition Center in Grafton (S. L. 2017, Ch. 11).


30794 Minutes of the Board of Trustees.
30795 Subject Files.
30292 Patient Records.
30796 Appropriations Ledger.
30797 Invoice Book.
30798 Property Inventories and Appraisals.
30799 Budget Files.                        
30800 Budget Reports.
30801 Superintendent’s Account Book.
30802 Record of Expenditures.
30803 Resident Census Reports.
30804 Photographs and Slides.
30293 Probate Proceedings.


Gray, David P.  Guide to the North Dakota State Archives, 1985.
North Dakota Century Code.
North Dakota Developmental Center at Westwood Park, Grafton (ND) Website.
North Dakota Secretary of State Blue Book.
North Dakota State Legislature Session Laws.

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